Wondering how to survive a plane crash? This post share all the important things that you will hopefully never have to use! Thankfully, plane crashes are extremely rare.
Based on research by the National Transporation Safety Board, flyright.com shared these statistics
- There was a 1 in 3.37 billion chance of dying in a commercial airline plane crash between 2012-2016
- There was a 1 in 20 million chance of being on a commercial airline flight experiencing a fatal accident from 2012-2016
- 98.6% of crashes did not result in a fatality — Of the 140 plane accidents during 2012-2016, only two involved fatalities (1.4%)
In any case though, if you want to survive a plane crash check out these tips.
Fly larger planes
Studies have shown that large passenger jets are a lot less likely to have an accident compared to smaller piston aircraft you may find at your local flying club.
Larger jet aircraft typically have a lot more redundancy by way of backup systems compared to smaller aircraft. The 747 for example has 4 engines, but can happily fly on two engines if two were to fail.
There is the other rationale that the larger the aircraft, the more energy it is likely to absorb in an impact because it has a larger structure – in turn protecting the impact.
A British Airways 777 had a dual engine failure on the final approach to Heathrow. The aircraft crashed short of the runway but everyone made it out alive with the landing gear, belly and engines dissipating most of the energy on impact, keeping the passengers safe.
From the AAIB report, all 135 passengers and 16 crew survived.
Read the in flight safety card
If the worst were to happen and a plane crash occurs, the best thing you can do is to be as prepared as possible. Even though you may be a frequent flyer, aircraft models vary between operators.
Knowing emergency escape routes, knowing how to operate the emergency equipment like how to open the doors in an emergency, how to put on your life jacket, life raft location etc could make the difference.
Leave belongings behind in a plane crash/ emergency
Taking belongings with you in an emergency is a big no-no. Taking belongings with you will definitely slow you down in exiting the aircraft.
If the aircraft is on fire, it can take as little as 90 seconds to burn out completely, so every second counts in terms of getting off the aircraft and getting as far away from the danger as possible.
Taking belongings with you may block your exit or even puncture an emergency slide.
Pay attention to the safety presentation
In a study by the FAA, it was found that “a large percentage of passengers continue to ignore preflight safety briefings” and do not read safety briefing cards.
From the report, human behaviour suggests that around 75% of the population would be stunned and bewildered with a further 10-15% stunned and bewildered.
From the article How to survive a plane crash: 10 tips that could save your life, normalcy bias was found to be a major reason why people do not survive plane crashes.
The logic says that as humans, normalcy bias causes us to think that things will be normal and predictable. Most of the time, this logic is fine but in emergencies, this human trait could be fatal.
The article found that normalcy bias had caused unnecessary deaths in plane accidents. After the initial impact, passengers were found not to react and instead remain seated (some people looked for carry on baggage) before heading to the exist.
As mentioned earlier, the FAA suggest that it will take around 90 seconds for a plane to be totally consumed by fire so it is crucial in an emergency situation to spring to action and head for the nearest escape without delay.
To overcome normalcy bias – it is crucial to have a plan if there is an emergency each time you get on an aircraft. Paying attention to the safety presentation is crucial:
- make note of the nearest exists
- know how to use the survival equipment
- cruicially – be ready for an emergency particularly during the take off and landing phases.
Put your oxygen mask on promptly
The time of useful consciousness at 35,000 feet in a rapid depressurisation is between 15-30seconds. At 40,000feet, that reduces to between 7-10seconds.
If you do not put your oxygen mask on in time, you become hypoxic as not enough oxygen is available to the brain to maintain normal function. Side effects of hypoxia can include confusion and dizziness. If oxygen starvation continues, consciousness is lost.
Knowing how to put your oxygen mask on correctly and promptly can save your life. We know that in a plane crash, most deaths are not caused by the initial impact, but rather the inability of people to get out of the wreckage.
Remaining conscious and having full mental capacity is crucial to giving the best possible chance of getting out of a plane crash.
Making sure your seat belt is securely fastened and taking up the brace position correctly will minimise the chances of injury in a plane crash. The brace position is designed to reduce the chances of limbs flailing on impact.
Flailing limbs on impact could lead to broken bones or fractures that could reduce mobility and speed. Smoke fire and fumes after the initial impact can quickly ensue the cabin so it is crucial to get out of the aircraft as soon as possible.
Take off your headphones
The strictness of cabin crew checking for people with headphones in during the takeoff and landing phase varies by airline. Having headphones in could mean you miss the initial clues that all is not well to get yourself ready before a potential crash.
Even worse, in panic and chaos after a crash, having headphones in and forgetting to take them out means you could hurt your ears from falling objects during the crash or miss crucial instructions during the evaluation.
Take off and landing critical phases so pay attention
PlaneCrashInfo.com found that 56% of accidents take place during the takeoff or landing phase. With more than half of accidents happening during this time, it is crucial to be alert and pay attention to any instructions given.
Forget your luggage
Picking up your luggage will take up precious time in getting out of the crash (which you cannot afford). Taking your luggage or personal belongings could also block the emergency exists for others trying to get out of the aircraft.
The luggage could also injure you or others as you try and get down the escape slides. Don’t forget your family or kids either! Keep asking yourself where your family members are as you make your way out of the plane crash.
Try and get fit
The FAA has studied the data on plane crash survivors and what they have found was that young, fit, slender men typically have the highest chances of survival.
Getting out of a plane crash needs you to move quickly, sometimes through narrow isles. You may also have been injured and need to move debris out of the way and squeeze through tiny openings and this is why fitness and being slender will count to your advantage.
Fitness also increases your time of useful consciousness in the event of a cabin depressurisation.
Being fit could also mean that you have the extra capacity and strength to save other people in the event of a plane crash.
Be mindful of where you sit
Where you seat could have an impact on the survivability of a plane crash. Structurally, the strongest section of an aircraft is in the wing box area typically over the wings.
Different studies have come to different conclusions with some saying it is better to sit at the front or at the back or the middle etc. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where is best.
A better way of considering where to sit is to try and sit closer to an emergency exit. All things being equal, being sat at an emergency exit will probably give you the shortest time to exit the aircraft in a crash (provided it is not blocked for whatever reason).
As you get further from the exit – does not mean you won’t get out, it just may take longer.
Try and stack the probability in your favour and get close to the existing.
Prop planes – stay away from the prop
Thankfully very rarely, but uncontained engine failures particularly on propeller aircraft have been known to penetrate the cabin. If there was to be an event where due to failure, debris from the prop failure enter the cabin, you do not want to be seated in this area.
In the event of a plane crash, you want to be able to get out of the aircraft quickly. Loose clothing that is likely to snag or catch on objects will in all likelihood slow you down.
Pick footwear that is comfortable and will protect your feet from hot objects. Avoid wearing high heels for example as these may puncture the escape slides or even worse, find that your heel is trapped.
Whilst it is difficult to say what a ‘perfect’ way to be dressed could look like, these are some considerations to have in mind:
- covered skin is less likely burnt and will offer you some protection during the crash
- cotton and wool materials will give you some insulation and protection from the elements whilst you wait for the emergency services to arrive after the crash.
- Avoid materials like nylon for example which can be quite flamable.
Wear your seat belt properly
According to wikihow.com, Every centimetre of slack in your seat belt triples the G-Force you’ll experience in the crash. For this reason, it is important that your seatbelt is tightly fastened during take-off and landing (the critical phases of the flight).
Loosely wearing your seatbelt during the cruise is also a good idea in case of unexpected turbulence or even worse a sudden depressurisation.
Although extremely unlikely, if the aircraft skin were to become compromised, the last thing you would want to happen is to be sucked out of the aircraft.
Having a seatbelt on could make all the difference and keep you inside the aircraft.
Avoid unsafe airlines
According to PlaneCrashInfo.com the chances of being involved in a fatal accident jump from 1 in 10 million if flying with an airline with a good safety record to 1 in 1.5 million if flying with an airline with a poor safety record.
A good place to check airliner ratings is at airlinerratings.com
Airlinerratings.com takes into account various stats to give safety rankings.
These stats include items such as:
- how many fatalities the airlines have experienced
- incident rates i.e. how frequently is the airline suffering serious pilot induced incidents and the trends
- has the airline passed major international audtits from the various organisations i.e. ICAO country audits and are they subject to any country bans
- Most recently, they have also included within their stats the airlines compliance to COVID19 protocols.
Once the crash has happened protect yourself from fire and fumes
Once an aircraft catches fire, it can take as little as 90 seconds for the aircraft to be completely consumed by fire.
In the event of a plane crash if there are fumes, these are some of the precautions you can take:
- stay low to the ground and follow the floor level illuminated lighting to the nearest exit
- if practical, cover you nose and mouth with a cloth – this will help reduce the amount of smoke and fumes you inhale
After the plane crash – try and get out of the plane as quickly as possible.
From the wikihow.com article on how to survive a plane crash: The National Transportation Safety Board has suggested that 68% of deaths after a plane crash down to the ensuing aircraft fire rather than injuries from the original crash itself.
It is imperative that after a plane crash, you get out as fast as possible. Find the nearest exit, make sure it is safe and get out as soon as possible.
Listen to the cabin crew instructions during the evacation
The cabin crew have undergone special training and are well-rehearsed and practised in the drills and protocols to get you out of the aircraft in an emergency. Try not to freeze and pay close attention to what they are saying.
Once out of the plane crash, get away from the wreckage
Fire and explosion risk will be a big concern after a plane crash, given how much fuel aircraft carry. Try and get away from the wreckage into a safe location so if there is a fire that breaks out or explosion, you are not caught up in it.
Stay together after the crash and call for help
Most modern aircraft have emergency locators beacons that start to transmit automatically to the emergency services after a certain threshold of impact.
Staying together makes it easier for the emergency services to find you. Staying together also has other benefits, such as:
- boosting moral
- being able to pool resources
- sharing warmth and food
- being able to get help for yourself and provide help to others that may be worse off.
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Kudzi Chikohora is a B737 pilot with around 2,000 hours flying in Europe. He holds a masters degree in Aerospace Engineering and is a chartered engineer and a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Kudzi completed his pilot training via the self funded modular pilot training route and created kcthepilot.com to share pilot training and aviation content.